Bank and credit union training programs tend to spend a lot of time talking about the introduction between a consumer and a staff member. This makes sense, as first impressions are vital. However, the way a staff member concludes the consumer interaction is just as important. After all, this is a critical marketing touch-point and potentially the last thing the consumer will hear from his or her financial institution.
One of the more famous retail closing statements comes from Chick-fil-A. As part of their branded experience, every employee is trained to use the phrase “my pleasure” whenever a customer says “thank you” or otherwise expresses a need or desire. This phrase has become such a ubiquitous part of the Chick-fil-A culture that some customers, so used to hearing “my pleasure,” will actually ask an employee “aren’t you supposed to say something now?” if that employee fails to follow the brand script.
Banks and credit unions should pay similar amounts of attention to the closing statements used by their staff when interacting with consumers. Financial institutions primed for success typically map out the consumer interaction process, complete with scripting to guide employees through both the verbal and nonverbal interaction that comes with every consumer encounter.
A terrific example of this comes from Heart of Louisiana Credit Union. At the end of every member interaction, in person, on the phone or via digital communication, every staff member says “thank you for being a part of the heart.” Similar to Chick-fil-A, this statement has become such an important part of the credit union’s brand culture that members now expect to hear it. This is branding gold.
Of course, as with the other elements of your consumer interaction experience, the closing statement must be authentic to who you are. In the case of Heart of Louisiana Credit Union, the statement goes extremely well with their branded culture (and name). By taking a brand-perspective look at your financial institution, as well as its consumers, you can also develop a closing statement that deepens the consumer relationship and increases brand awareness (which is really just a fancy way of saying enhancing consumer top of mind awareness about your bank or credit union).
When it comes to branding, it is not enough just to have a vision, a tagline and a logo. A “must-have” in any successful brand initiative are employees who buy into your brand. People who are living your brand promises every day.
But that is easier said than done. So how do you successfully gain brand engagement with your entire staff? According to one credit union it all starts with brand training.
“One of our key strategic measures is employee engagement,” says Urjit Patel, senior vice president for Smart Financial Credit Union. “At Smart Financial we feel that our employees are the brand.”
During a recent rebrand, the credit union held a one-day brand camp. At this event—conducted on a traditional “banking” holiday—all employees gathered together to learn about their new brand. On that special day various employees (executives and “brand ambassadors” from multiple departments) shared many aspects of the new brand.
But the brand camp was just the beginning. It’s what happened after that day that helped reinforce the brand launch.
Smart Financial recently had all their employees—not just the front-line—go through a customized brand training session, where they learned how to live the brand every day in their individual jobs.
“Whenever you execute large enterprise wide change, it’s critically important to make sure all staff are properly indoctrinated to help you achieve your short and long-term strategic goals,” Patel said. “We truly want all employees at Smart Financial to have a personal connection to our brand thereby creating brand ambassadors in the process.”
One creative technique Smart Financial did as part of their brand training was to have all the employees sign their name to a brand board. This step got the employees up during the session and had them physically show their commitment by signing a branded board.
“Gaining commitment to sign the boards helps show how we are all on the team to make sure our brand and vision is executed seamlessly all the time,” added Patel. “Accountability to have the right people in the right positions living our vision and brand is vital for our future growth.”
According to Patel, there was real power in having employees actually sign their commitment to live the brand. “Every employee has submitted their personal goals to live the brand. We have captured this information and talk about it at the branch, department and executive team meetings.”
But the boards are not just a one-time training exercise. They are actually a tool to use moving forward. “At quarterly all staff meetings we display our signed brand commitment boards and share successes in how our people are living it daily,” Patel says. All new hires will go through the brand training and “we will display the brand boards to show all parties how we have gained commitment towards our brand from all staff.”
Smart Financial is already seeing success with employee engagement from the brand training. “We are seeing different business lines within the organization already talking daily about our new vision and communicating across company departments to help each other succeed,” Patel said. “We are capturing member interaction success stories from frontline and back office department employees to help show how everyone can make a difference. We are taking new initiatives in how we reach out to the public to grow our market presence through our brand.”
Patel is absolutely correct: great brands are built with engaged employees. And getting your employees engaged starts with brand training.
Several years ago when I was an executive at a financial institution, one particular copy machine in the marketing department kept breaking. Almost on a daily basis, something would go wrong with it. It was such a commonplace occurrence for it to break that I was on a first name basis with the repairman.
One day when I hit “print”, I could hear the noise of yet another unfixable paper jam. I flew out of my office saying all the choice words your mother told you to never use at work. Once I calmed down I realized the real problem wasn’t with the copy machine—it was with me.
I had accepted that the copy machine was going to break all the time. It was just the way we were doing business. I was not doing anything (like replacing the machine) that would solve the long-term problem.
So what are you seeing in your credit union or bank that you are just accepting? Here are a few areas to explore.
- Complacent staff—We are pretty good about dealing with unethical employees. But what about those people who are just “mailing it in.” You know who they are: they’ve quit, but they just haven’t told you yet. The biggest threats to your brand come from within. Are you seeing some unengaged employees that you are just accepting their 70% buy-in?
- Underperforming branches—Branches are a major investment for any financial institution. We want to give them every opportunity to succeed and provide a return on those building dollars. At some point, those assets must become profitable. It’s easy to let pride get in the way: closing a branch may seem like a backwards step. You must take emotion out of those types of decisions. Are you seeing a branch that has underperformed for years that you are holding onto because you are afraid to make a hard decision?
- Dirty bathrooms—Your bathrooms communicate something about your brand. In many ways, branding is about the details (even the detail about your restrooms). When we do marketing audits for our clients, we do the “bathroom smell test.” Why? Because no amount of marketing can overcome a poor restroom. Are you seeing unclean restrooms but ignoring them?
- Slow procedures—Consumers today want to do business (especially financial business) where it’s easy. Answer this question: how easy is it to do business with your credit union or bank? In other words, there might be policies or procedures that are slowing down things. Granted, some of those might be out of your control. However, there is a good possibility you can review internal issues for improvement. Are you seeing antiquated ways of doing business because of unnecessary or outdated polices and procedures?
Have you ever said “that’s just the way we do business” or “that’s just the way we do things around here?” If that’s the case, then you might be seeing things you are just accepting. Maybe it’s time you look at your credit union or bank with an outsider’s view.
by Colleen Cormier, Account Executive for On The Mark Strategies
“You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” I never understood this saying until recently. As far as I was concerned, the strong members of your group could compensate for the weaker ones, as long as the weak members were outnumbered. It doesn’t work that way.
My son’s soccer team recently merged with another team because neither had enough players to make a roster. The two halves of the teams live in different cities, hold separate practices and train with different coaches who have different coaching philosophies. Our half of the team took first place four consecutive seasons. The other team was always toward the bottom of the pack. Combined, we’re at the bottom of the pack.
Financial institutions most likely relate to this, because they usually have teams of employees at different branch locations with managers who manage differently. Do any of those managers exercise business practices that contradict your brand? Those are your weak links, or brand gaps. Even if it’s only one manager at one location, that branch weakens the overall strength of your brand.
Following are a few suggestions to strengthen or repair your weak links:
Staff buy-in is critical to your brand’s success. That starts with brand training. We conduct brand training for every branding client we work with, because it’s so important. Brand training explains what branding is, how it impacts your credit union and how employees must live the brand in their jobs daily. It gets everyone on the same page and excited about your brand promise to customers or members. Repeat it regularly and be sure every new employee experiences it. If you have to take the training to certain locations and deliver it multiple times, do it. Your brand depends on it.
Every executive at your financial institution must lead the brand. They must be living examples of the culture and values that define your brand. If your brand is friendly, say hi to employees on the elevator or in the hallway. Learn their names. Smile. Employees tend to imitate whatever behaviors your executives exhibit – positive or negative.
Your brand is not just your logo or your dress code or the framed values hanging on the wall. Those are all pieces of your brand, which encompasses everything about your financial institution. It is a way of life for your employees on the job, and it needs to be enforced. The marketing department often polices how your logo is used and what branches look like, but every manager is responsible for monitoring his or her employees. You want all employees to get on board with your brand, and hopefully with adequate training and leadership (and sometimes discipline) they will. Those who refuse are no longer a fit for your organization. They are your weak links and should seek employment elsewhere.
Banking is a competitive industry in which differentiation is already a challenge. You cannot afford weak links. That doesn’t mean every employee is perfect all the time. It means they embrace the brand, try every day to live the brand and help your customers or members grow to love your brand.
By now, people around the world have either seen or heard about the recent viral video of authorities dragging a passenger off a United Airlines flight. The passenger wasn’t being unruly (until authorities began man handling him). He wasn’t breaking the law. He was the victim of a computer algorithm that “randomly” selected him to leave the plane. The airline needed four seats to fly crew members to a destination where they had to work the next day. Only three passengers volunteered their seats. United needed one more. They chose to handle it by pulling a passenger off the flight kicking and screaming (literally). Needless to say, it was handled badly, and United is already paying for it.
How can your financial institution avoid a brand scandal of this magnitude?
A financial institution’s failure to plan adequately is not the customer’s problem. It shouldn’t be anyway. United not having enough seats for its scheduled employees is about the equivalent of a financial institution not having enough money to accommodate withdrawals. It should never happen. Whatever contingencies you have in place for such a time should focus on inconveniencing the financial institution – not the customer or member.
Understand the situation before you comment on it
United CEO Oscar Munoz did the right thing by publicly apologizing the following day for the way the airline handled the situation. Where he failed was writing a letter telling employees the exact opposite. He applauded them for following procedures and handling a “disruptive and belligerent” passenger.
Clearly, Mr. Munoz did not understand why the passenger was belligerent until after he saw the viral video. And newsflash to Mr. Munoz: Nothing in writing is guaranteed to remain confidential, especially when you send it to thousands of employees who may not agree with your stance. While the CEO changed his attitude after the video went viral, it was too late. His credibility was already in question and so was the airline’s integrity.
Always apologize when your financial institution makes a mistake. Do not, however, put in writing words that will come back to haunt you because you failed to understand the full scope of the scandal before you spoke.
Train and empower employees to make better decisions
I don’t know the value of the voucher offered to the three passengers who voluntarily gave up their seats, but I’m willing to bet a fourth person would have come forward for the right price. The same holds true for your customers or members. Offer a valuable solution when a problem arises, even if you have to be creative or lose a little bit of money.
Even $1,000 or more would have cost the airline less than it stands to lose from this scandal. Stock prices dropped relatively quickly, and United typically doesn’t have the cheapest rates to begin with. Customers won’t have a hard time choosing another airline that doesn’t bully its passengers.
Most likely, United will recover from this scandal eventually. The question is, how much will it lose in the meantime for a situation that could have been avoided with better planning, communication and decision making?
One of the most important ways banks and credit unions can distinguish themselves in a sea of competitors is by involving consumers in an immersive brand experience from their first point of contact.
When trying to wrap your mind around the concept of an immersive brand experience, one of the great examples is Disney World. From the moment you walk into the park (and even before) you are completely submerged within the brand experience designed meticulously by Disney. Another example is Medieval Times. From the exterior of the castle to the lowering of the drawbridge and all the jousting and sword-fighting within, a trip to Medieval Times is about as authentic a (theatrical) trip back in time can be.
A fair push-back to these examples can sound something like “You’re talking about Disney World and Medieval Times — places that promote and provide supercool experiences. At our bank/credit union, were talking about checking accounts and loans — pretty dry fare.”
Sure, the inside of your bank or credit union probably lacks talking mice and jousting knights, but the principles of brand immersion still apply. To be a memorable financial institution, one that gives consumers reason to come back again and again, you must create and then adhere to a set of brand standards that guide every consumer interaction.
This is best accomplished by a deep-dive brand examination that includes mapping out the journey of your consumers, whether they come to you in person, on the telephone, via email or any other point of interaction (such as social media). You are ensuring that at every point of contact (and every branch facility or contact center you have) your consumers receive the same set of service standards.
This repetition of the brand immersion experience, when repeated consistently and well, leaves an indelible mark in the minds of your consumers – that your bank/credit union is the place to go, the place that understands them, the place best suited for their financial products and services. That’s one of the reasons places like Disney World and Medieval Times can charge the prices they do for admission. Sure, there’s plenty of places to take the family for food and entertainment that are a lot cheaper. But you’re buying into the brand immersion and expressing a lifestyle choice that says something about you as a consumer.
The same thing applies to a bank or credit union. And it doesn’t matter that we’re talking safe deposit boxes and savings accounts. Brand immersion, when done well, works the same for any retail operation. How well does your bank or credit union approach brand immersion to differentiate itself from the competition?